Military Medicine,185(9-10), e1632-e1639.
Contingency operations during the past 18 years have exposed millions of U.S. military service members to numerous combat and operational stressors. Despite this, a relative dearth of literature has focused on the experiences of deployed military medical personnel. As such, the present study aimed to address this gap in the literature by conducting individual and small group interviews with Air Force medical personnel who had recently returned from a deployment to Iraq. Interviews targeted self-reported factors related to psychological risk and resiliency across the deployment cycle, while also seeking recommendations for future military medical personnel preparing for medical deployments.
Materials and Methods
Inductive thematic analyses were conducted on transcripts from 12 individual and structured group interviews conducted with recently deployed U.S. Air Force medical personnel (N = 28). An interview script consisting of 18 prompts was carefully developed based on the experiences of study personnel. Two team members (n = 1 research psychologist; n = 1 military medical provider) coded exemplars from interview transcripts. A third team member (research psychologist) reviewed coded exemplars for consistency and retained themes when saturation was reached.
In total we report on 6 primary themes. Participants reported feeling prepared to conduct their mission while deployed but often felt unprepared for the positions they assumed and the traumas they commonly experienced. Most participants reported deployment to be a rewarding experience, citing leader engagement, and social support as key protective factors against deployment-related stressors. Finally, following deployment, participants largely reported positive experiences reintegrating with their families but struggled to reintegrate into their workplace.
Findings from the present study indicate that the military is largely doing a good job preparing Air Force medical providers to deploy. Results of the present study indicate that military medical personnel would benefit from: (1) increased predictability surrounding deployment timelines, (2) improved cross-cultural training, (3) advanced training for atypical injuries in unconventional patient populations, and (4) improvements in postdeployment workplace reintegration. The present research has the potential to positively impact the overall quality of life for deploying military service members and their families; while simultaneously highlighting the successes and shortfalls in the deployment process for U.S. military medical personnel.